Monday, 23 February 2009

Smoked Beer & Food

Smoked Beer & Food

Last weekend I enjoyed one of my favourite beer and food combinations, pork and smoked beer. If you haven’t previously come across smoked beers, let me give you a brief history lesson, hopefully without sending you to sleep. If you do sleep easily, probably best to miss out the next paragraph!!

The smoky flavours in the beer come from the malt, which in very simplified terms, is barley that is soaked to start germination (and get the sugars on the go!), and then dried out. A few hundred years ago all malt was dried by direct heat in kilns, which left the malt with a smoky flavour, hence all beer was smoky. Not everybody liked the smoky beer and other drying techniques were soon discovered and smoking the malt went out of fashion. A couple of breweries in one city in Germany carried this tradition on with the Heller Brewerei still surviving today run by the Trum family in its 6th generation. They brew 4 different smoked beers all fermented in ancient wooden barrels under the cathedral in Bamberg.

The Aecht Sclenkerla Rauchbier (the Original Schlenkerla Smoked Beer) is a Marzen style beer, it is very dark with the distinct aroma of smoky bacon crisps! They also brew a lager (much subtler smoking that is delicious with delicately smoked fish), a wheat beer that is punchy and very versatile with food, and Urbock or strong beer that I haven’t sampled. I am a huge fan of both smoked food and smoked beer, and lesser fans of one or the other will surely disagree with my following comments. I love to pair smoked beer and smoked food together and think they dovetail perfectly, however some people will find this too much. The Marzen pairs very well with dark smoked meats, well-aged ham, smoked bacon, barbecued meats and strong cheeses. The lager is very good with delicately smoked fish or with barbecued chicken, dishes with chorizo sausage also work very well. The wheat beer is my favourite and it is beautiful with smoked fish, smoked chicken, smoked cheese, paprika flavoured dishes, and is stunning with pork and a surprising success with Indian curries.

One of my favourite meals with a smoked wheat beer is slow roasted pork belly the richness and natural smoky flavours that come about when you slow roast pork combine spectacularly with the beer, the sum of the two is definitely greater than each on its own. We buy a slab of pork belly from our local butchers in Wincanton. We love to cook it on top of garlic and herbs.

Here is our recipe; score the pork fat and place on top of bunches of rosemary and thyme, cut a garlic bulb in half sideways facing upwards. Blast this in a hot oven until you get crackling (about 20 – 30 mins) and then turn down to 150˚c and cook for 2 – 3 hours depending on the size of your (pork) belly. Take out to rest and make a sauce by deglazing the pan with some stock and adding the garlic and herbs. If you fancy it, add a little of the smoked beer, taste to make sure it isn’t too bitter and sweeten slightly if necessary. Serve with mash and Savoy cabbage.

In my previous life as a publican we used to smoke our own meats and fish and I have experimented with all sorts of smoking from vegetables to chocolate with varying degrees of success. The smoked wheat beer was a favourite with a smoked fish linguine, a smoked haddock, poached egg and bubble and squeak dish, and smoked chicken and bacon salad. It is versatile and delicious and I love to sing its praises. The Marzen and Weizen versions are available at Beer Ventures.

In recent years other breweries have started to champion some of these ancient styles of beer, none quite so well as the original in Bamberg. The Alaskan Brewing Co do an excellent smoked porter, as do Okells on the Isle of Mann.

Happy Adventuring!


  1. Belly pork is my favourite cut of meat and with a smoked beer like this it rocks. There are so many interesting flavour combos to be found with smoked beers - I love it with sushi!

    And the Islay cask aged beers add a really interesting new kind of smoky flavour (not the same thing, but a similar profile).

    It's too early in the morning to be talking about great food and beer matches... it's encouraging me to open a coffee stout with my cereal!!

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